Riverview at Dobson backers and opponents — including a heckler, a mascot and carpenters union — made their positions loud and clear Tuesday during the first of two election debates in the Mesa council chambers.
Strong language was used by panelists on both sides, and the raucous crowd was told numerous times to be quiet.
The next Riverview debate is April 11, three days before the start of early voting. The election is May 17.
The "Yes" on Riverview panel consisted of Mesa Vice Mayor Claudia Walters, Mesa resident LaRue Gates and Mesa attorney David Udall, who represents the Riverview developers. The "No" on Riverview’s panel included Mesa Councilwoman Janie Thom, Valley Business Owners (And Concerned Citizens) treasurer Jan Hibbard and Larada’s Army Surplus and Outdoors Store owner Larry Beavers.
Hibbard called the estimated $80 million incentive package "the worst scam in Mesa history," while Udall said Hibbard’s group was "for sale" and made links between her group and the competing Tempe Marketplace. Hibbard said Udall offered them money to drop their opposition.
The Yes side stressed Wal-Mart will not be the recipient of any taxpayer incentives and quoted the agreement with the city that states: "Developer agrees that no economic incentive payments shall be paid by developer to any owner of a ‘Wal-Mart’ or ‘Sam’s Club’ store."
Hibbard displayed a copy of an Ernst and Young market analysis that said Wal-Mart will be given free rent. The No side argues the agreement only prohibits an incentive "payment" to Wal-Mart.
At one point, Thom told the audience Gates now lives in a county island surrounded by northeast Mesa, but still owns her home near Riverview. And when Hibbard said she lost her train of thought, an audience member yelled, "It’s easy when you lie."
The event also was the first appearance of a Riverview campaign mascot, "Wally, the $84 million man," whose enlarged face resembled Wal-Mart’s smiling character. The mascot had a sign that read "Will relocate to Riverview for $84 million." It was surrounded before the meeting by the Arizona Carpenters Union, shouting in favor of Riverview.
East Valley Tribune’s
When: 7 p.m. April 11
Where: Mesa City Council chambers, 57 E. First St.
Televised: Live on Mesa cable Channel 11